Churches I’d Visit Again – 5 Things to Make Visitors Feel Welcome!

I spend a lot of time visiting churches. As a touring performer for over 38 years, whose primary audience is made up of church congregations, I would give a rough estimate that I have been in over 3,000 churches during my lifetime. That has to be some kind of record!

nametagOn a recent trip, I was in a church I had performed at 25 years earlier. I have to say I didn’t remember much about the church; it had a different pastor now and no one remembered me. But while I didn’t remember the church, I vividly remembered the pastor. I had stayed in his home and the hospitality I received was what I remembered—it was exceptional.

On that same recent trip I was in another church—first time at this one. As I left the church I recalled thinking, “If I lived here, I might attend this church, and I would certainly visit again.” It wasn’t the sermon (I was speaking), or the music (it was okay but not great). If I had to single out the one thing that made me want to visit again, I would have to say it was the hospitality—it was exceptional.

Hospitality has to rank at the top of the list of things that make me want to attend a church. Here are some specific things I have noticed about those churches:

1) Greeters Who do More Than “Greet” – There is a difference between someone who has the “job of greeter” and someone who truly loves greeting people. These greeters didn’t just shake my hand and give me a bulletin. They asked my name and then–and this is important–used it in a sentence soon after. People love to hear their name spoken. It makes them feel noticed and important. I think there is a difference between having a person at the door to greet people and having the right person at the door to greet people.

2) The People Liked Each Other – As an actor and a church visitor, I learn a lot by watching people. One of the observations I have made about the churches I would visit again is that the people seem to like each other. There was plenty of real conversation, laughter, eye contact, hugging, and listening among those gathering before the service and after. It wasn’t just “church smiles”—it appeared to be genuine. I would want to attend a church where the people liked each other.

3) I Liked the Lobby – There is a difference between a lobby that takes up space between the parking lot and the sanctuary and a lobby that is an inviting gathering place for the congregation before and after the service. And I am not talking about large spaces or big budgets. Just like those make-over TV shows, many churches could do with a lobby make-over. A lot of fellowship and community take place in the church lobby. I was in a very small, rural church recently, and the lobby was tiny but inviting. A few comfortable chairs, warm colors with rugs and art work, and of course coffee service. It was the sort of place where I would love to hang out and visit with a good friend.

4) Restrooms Signs! – Signage matters. I like to be able to find a restroom without having to ask where it is. Some people even find it embarrassing to ask. I don’t want to be bombarded with signs, but a few to help me find the essentials would be appreciated. And while we are on the subject of restrooms—the churches I liked had clean ones with someone to monitor them often (a clogged toilet does not a good impression make). And if you are doing the lobby makeover, consider adding the restroom to the list. I have heard some say they wouldn’t eat in a restaurant that had dirty restrooms. Maybe some people would make the same observation about where they worship.

5) Don’t Make Me Wear a Name Tag – I’m not against name tags, in certain situations, but putting a name tag on a visitor, or making them stand up to be noticed in a worship service can be intimidating. The visitor feels like a target. Any attempts to engage with the visitor after being singled out, runs the risk of feeling disingenuous. Inviting a visitor to pick up an information packet after the service or a “gift” at the information table is fine. But we don’t want to stick out like the proverbial “sore thumb.”

Obviously, hospitality isn’t the only criteria for selecting a church, but it should be a big priority for every church. I have been to many churches with great music and eloquent sermons but left feeling cold. Hospitality makes the difference.

What other things matter to you when visiting a church for the first time?

For a real blast from the past on a related topic, check out Blessed Usherance! This is how-to video we created waaaay back in the early 90’s as a resource for greeters and ushers. Though dated, it still makes some good points and done with a dash of humor! Available in our online store here.

11 thoughts on “Churches I’d Visit Again – 5 Things to Make Visitors Feel Welcome!

  1. Kim B says:

    Yep, although, regarding point one, I’ve also experienced greeting that is so aggressive, it’s almost akin to short-term stalking.

    Reply
  2. Ruth Carter says:

    When people like each other, it affects the other things, especially the greeting, because the electricity generated by all that good feeling just extends to others. I have another thing I look for though: how welcome are women in ministry? And how welcome do they make people like that fellow in In His Steps? I attended a church last year that had a beautiful woman welcoming us at the door–she was so genuinely warm. And, altho they sang nothing but classic hymns, they sang with such gusto and joy that the place rang. But women did seem to be second-class citizens there, and as my sister and I were the only women not wearing skirts or dresses, I felt out of place.

    Reply
    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      Good point, Ruth. But now we venture into an area beyond just making people feel welcome, and into the church’s theology… which is a whole other can of worms… but essential for consideration. Suffice it to say that how people dress, view women in ministry, and a whole host of other issues will be reflected as soon as you walk through the door of any church. Those choices have to be considered by the church even when their decisions are not to our liking. And I honestly would prefer an honest representation to a false one. If this church truly had no place for women in ministry, or had a specific dress code in order to fit in, then I suspect you have your answer on whether or not you would visit again!

      Reply
  3. Ellen Jervis says:

    I hate name tags and being targeted as a visitor it always makes me feeling like
    Bob Newhart in the ice cream parlor episode where he noticed folks who ordered
    several scoops of ice cream were serenaded with some embarrassing song so he
    orders a single scoop hoping not to be noticed and then the ice cream waiters
    all surround his chair and sing “single scooper single scooper this man’s
    a party pooper”. Ha.

    Reply
  4. Celeste Renta says:

    Michael and I visited some of the churches in the area just to visit. I noticed at one church that everyone was friendly and said hi before the service started, but it wasn’t until the official “say hi” time that they actually gave us their names and asked for ours. I wondered if they thought we were going to bolt after the opening announcements or something. And you talk about signage – I think it was the same church – they made a general announcement about coffee after the service. We were going to go and just figured we’d follow everyone over to where the coffee was being served. Well everyone was so busy talking to each other – NO ONE left to get coffee. We went outside and didn’t see any signs for coffee or even for the fellowship hall – so rather than stand around waiting for everyone to finish their conversations and go to get their cup of coffee, we left.

    Reply
  5. annie says:

    Totally saw ‘both sides of the coin’ while traveling.

    Reply
  6. Jill P. says:

    Using someone’s name in sentences can get creepy. I wouldn’t be instructing the greeters to do that because some can’t do it naturally and then end up overdoing it. My 15-year-old still talks about the car salesman last year who said my name in almost every sentence for the entire time we were inspecting a car. It weirded us out.

    Reply
    1. Chuck Neighbors says:

      A salesman doing that would creep me out too… but I think there is, or should be, a big difference between a salesman’s approach and a church greeter. Studies show that people like hearing their name. It makes them feel noticed and important. Without overdoing it, a simple “Welcome Jill” and a “Thanks for visiting, Jill” when you leave, I believe will make a strong favorable first impression… unless your name isn’t Jill. 😉

      Reply

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